Most fundamentally important task


Photo: We’ve committed an extra $500m in the Budget to support children and families.

No-one should contradict the first half of this sentence – parenting is the most fundamentally important task in society.

That they need support should be beyond debate too.

However, the nature of that support and who gives it and how much is given is debatable.

Parent with babies and young children used to be able to rely on getting practical and moral support from  extended family, friends and neighbours.

Then the state got involved through family benefit.

A generation ago all mothers received the FB for each child from birth until the end of the year the child turned 18.

It wasn’t a lot, about $5 a week from memory, though to put that in perspective the rent on my first flat, in 1976, was $7 and the next year rent was only $4.75.

The FB was dropped by Ruth Richardson on the grounds that it was ridiculous for someone like her to get the money when she and her family didn’t need it while other families needed more.

Various forms of more targeted help for families have been introduced since then.

One of those is Paid Parental Leave – targeted not on need, but whether or not the mother was in paid work for the required length of time before the baby was born.

That means wealthy families in which the mother has been working get help for jam while poorer families in which the mother wasn’t working might not have enough for bread.

The importance of time together for mothers and babies to bond is beyond debate.

In the past that meant most women stopped working for some time and the family lost income as a result.

It’s now the norm in most western countries to pay some form of PPL to give some financial support to women who stop work to care for their babies.

But it still leaves the question of whether there should be help for families in which the mother wasn’t in paid work, if not universally at least for those on lower incomes.

There is of course another question – whether or not it’s the taxpayers’ role to provide financial support for any new parents and the wealthier ones in particular.

But once a benefit like PPL, it’s politically difficult to cut it.

I’m still left with another question, though – would the practical and moral support parents used to get from extended family, friends and neighbours be at least as valuable for many as the financial help from the state?

Regardless of your financial position, it’s very difficult doing the most fundamentally important task of parenting in isolation.

Questions on PPL


A poll shows a majority of people support extending Paid Parental Leave to 26 weeks.

But do those supporting it know the answers to these questions?

1. How many people receive PPL?

2. How many people receiving PPL earn more than the average wage?

3. How many people receiving PPL earn the average wage or less?

4. How many people receiving PPL return to week when it’s finished?

5. How many people receiving PPL get an extension of the government-funded period from their employers?

6. How many people receiving PPL require it for basic living expenses?

7. How many people receiving PPL use it to fund extras?

I don’t know the answer to any of these questions but do know people earning well above the average wage who receive PPL.

It is the only benefit I can think of, except superannuation, which isn’t means tested and I can’t think of any other benefit which gives more to wealthier people than poorer people.

The benefits of time together for parents and babies are unquestioned but is paying for that the responsibility of families or the taxpayer, especially for wealthy recipients?

Why should the taxpayer pay?


Plunket, like most other submitters on a proposed extension to paid parental leave emphasises the benefits if children have more time to form an attachment to their families.

The benefits for children and parents of extending PPL aren’t under question.

What is up for debate is whether taxpayers should pay for it and none of those in favour have yet been able to give any good reasons for that.

Labour’s already forgotten lesson


It’s not easy being in opposition.

You’re criticised if you don’t have policy and you’re criticised when you do.

For several weeks Labour leader David Shearer has been criticised for being missing in action – or is that inaction?

Last week he turned up to comment on Paid Parental leave and yesterday he made a speech about research.

Bill English did the maths and reckons that’s a lot of extra extra spending and borrowing:

“In the past week, it has proposed doubling paid parental leave entitlements, which  would cost taxpayers another $150 million a year.

“And today,  Labour’s leader confirms he backs research and development tax credits,  which would cost at least $300 million a year. He claims this could be  paid for from a new capital gains tax, but that’s not possible as Labour already concedes this would raise little extra revenue in its first few years.

“This from a leader who says he will be thrifty with  taxpayers’ money, but in reality wants to spend more, borrow more and  tax more.

“Together, these two Labour promises alone would amount  to almost $2 billion of more debt over a four-year forecast period.  Labour has clearly learned nothing from its past extravagance. Less than five months since the election, it is already going back to its bad old habits.

“New Zealanders and businesses are being careful with  their own money, prioritising their spending and getting on top of debt. They expect nothing less of the Government. We need only look to many  other countries to see the dire consequences of governments spending and borrowing too much.

“This Government does not want that for New  Zealand. That’s why we’re focused on getting back to surplus by 2014/15, which will provide us with more choices such as repaying debt,  delivering better results from public services and building a more  competitive economy based on higher savings and less debt.

The difference is stark – a government focused on returning to surplus and an opposition that wants to borrow and spend its way back to power .

Labour said they’d accepted the need for a more disciplined approach to spending but they’re obviously already forgotten the lesson.

Fathers are parents too


The headline says: working mothers caught in childcare trap.

The story begins:

A generation of young, educated New Zealand women is being lost to the workforce because they can’t afford childcare.

Many tertiary educated and trained mothers are deciding to retrain as teachers or nurses, professions that offer more flexible work options.

Some are opting for temp work, and others said returning to the workforce was not worth their while.

Passing quickly over the insult to teaching and nursing, it is only in the 16th paragraph that there is any mention of a father:

Laura Lyttelton has two children, aged three and 16 months. She returned to work after having them, and in the last six months resumed full-time work. When she and her partner were both working full time they had a joint income of about $90,000.

But now, she said, childcare had become so expensive it was better for her partner to resign from his work so he could get Working for Families tax credits.

Fathers are parents too, yet this story is typical of almost all on childcare which portray it as a woman’s issue.

Then there’s the irony that a story complaining about the costs of childcare and suggesting the government spends more on it, also shows that existing government assistance – WFF – provides a disincentive to work.

Paid Parental Leave is also mentioned. Arguments in favour of that include the benefits of at least one parent staying at home with children yet this story also mentions the benefits of workforce participation.

Yet more proof, life requires choices and there are costs and benefits to them all.

UPDATE: Kiwiblog looks at the stats in the story.

Families Commission sees sense on PPL


National  has got support  from an unexpected quarter for announcing it will veto any extension to Paid Parental Leave.

Families Commissioner Carl Davidson has said the country probably can’t afford it:

Until recently the Families Commission has helped lead the campaign for increased paid parental leave. It argued strongly under its former boss Rajen Prasad – now a Labour MP – for a full year’s paid parental leave and reaffirmed its position in 2010.

But Mr Davidson, appointed that year by Social Development Minister Paula Bennett, told the Weekend Herald that the commission’s 2007 proposal should now be seen as “the gold standard”, which had to change because of the worldwide economic recession.

He said paid parental leave encouraged people to start families, which was socially and economically desirable but had certain limits.

Has anyone seen any research on this? Does PPL really encourage people who wouldn’t otherwise have had children to have them and if so in sufficient numbers to justify the cost?
Does it make a significant difference to parents taking time off work after a birth and to breast feeding rates or would they have done it anyway?
We don’t want to get too carried away of course because that argument could be extended to infinity.

“I mean, wouldn’t it be great if none of us had to go to work and we could just stay at home and raise our kids and get paid for it?

No-one disputes the benefits of time off work to establish and continue breast feeding, to bond, to adjust to the demands of parenting not least of which is too little sleep.
A case for having at least one parent at home for a few weeks, months or even years could be easily made.
But does the public need to pay PPL to enable this?
Even in the best of financial times that’s debatable. It shouldn’t even be considered when we’re running deficits and there will be other more pressing priorities when we get back into surplus.

Most already manage extended parental leave


News stories and commentators covering the issue of extending Paid Parental Leave to six months have almost all been in favour of it.

The  importance of breast feeding and bonding isn’t disputed. Any of us who have had children will also acknowledge the challenges of adjusting to life with a baby and without enough sleep.

Those are all reasons which support people taking time off work when they have babies but a few of us have asked why the public should pay them while doing so and the public, via a Herald poll, support us:

16300–16350 votes
National’s veto on extending paid parental leave – right or wrong?

  1. Right  (60%)
  2. Wrong  (34%)
  3. I’m not sure (6%)

This is an unscientific poll but stronger evidence comes from the fact that most people take extended leave anyway.

Employers and Manufacturers Association employment services manager David Lowe said most people took six to 12 months off when they had a baby.

Those who did come back at 14 weeks usually did so because of financial constraints and were often “unsettled”.

“If you have a look at the returning parent and the child, everyone is more settled if they take a little bit longer off.”

He goes on to say a longer period would be better for parents and employers wouldn’t mind but also acknowledges the financial constraints facing the government.

But if most people are already managing extended leave without the public paying for it, there is no need for an extension of PPL, at least without a means test.

Why do wealthy need benefits?


It’s not difficult to justify welfare for people in need.

But what is the rationale behind welfare for people who already have more than enough?

There might be a case for Paid Parental Leave for people on very low incomes. But what is the justification for giving it to high income earners?

If people on well above average incomes can’t arrange their own finances without the need of top-ups from the taxpayers it ought to be their problem not ours.

If the state wasn’t paying them it’s probable their employers would to ensure valued workers returned to their jobs. Many already do supplement and extend PPL for that reason.

That raises several questions: Is PPL a benefit for parents or a subsidy for employers?

Does it help people have children, or help them fund more expensive choices about how they live?

What would happen if it wasn’t there at all?

Would employers give it? Would prospective parents budget for an income drop before the birth? Would they buy less expensive houses and pay less for what they put in them, the cars they drive and other discretionary spending?

Would it make a difference to when they had children or whether they had children at all?

Is cost of children public responsibility?


My mother was a tutor sister.*

She loved her job and was very good at it but when she married she gave it up while my father worked full-time as a carpenter and built their house in his spare time.

Looking back years later, she said it was ridiculous that she didn’t carry on working but that was something very few married women contemplated in the 1950s.

When we married nearly three decades later almost all women continued to work after marriage, though most gave up when they had children, at least until the youngest was at pre-school.

That has gradually changed and now it is not uncommon for women to return to work much sooner after having children.

Some do it by choice, some to keep up professional qualifications, some because they need/want the money.

There are both costs and benefits to taking time off to have children and continuing working.

The benefits of uninterrupted time for bonding and breast-feeding aren’t disputed.

Juggling the care of a baby and the tiredness that goes with it with paid work is demanding.

Women brought up to believe they can do anything can find full-time parenting very challenging.

The loss of a full or part-time income can strain family budgets.

But is it the public’s responsibility to compensate for that?

Proponents of paid parental leave think so and are delighted that Labour’s Members’ Bill to extend PPL to six months has been drawn from the ballot.

There’s been a range of views on whether or not it is affordable given high government debt and the need to return to surplus as soon as possible without threatening essential services.

I’ve yet to read or hear anyone questioning the need for PPL at all and whether the cost of children should be a public responsibility.

PPL is a benefit, paid for from taxes. Like ACC it gives more to those who earn more – at least up to $458.82 per week or the equivalent of $23,858 –   but unlike ACC the beneficiaries have not been levied for it.

Unlike any other non-contributory benefit, except superannuation, it isn’t means tested. A woman, or her partner, earning thousands of dollars a week has the same entitlement to PPL as someone on the minimum wage.

Is that right or fair?

I’m not convinced it is on principle and absolutely sure it isn’t in the current economic environment.

I might accept a case if it was means tested. But paying the equivalent of pocket money to high earners when the country is seriously indebted and the only increased spending in this year’s Budget will be for health and education – paid for by savings elsewhere – is a luxury not a necessity.

Lindsay Mitchell argues the economic case against the extension here.

Cactus Kate writes on parental pay madness.

Lucia Maria thinks PPL just grows the state.

* Tutor sister doesn’t exist anymore – that was a senior nurse who taught the junior ones in training hospitals.

Spot the contradiction


The Families Commission wants us to fund the expansion of Paid Parental Leave for new fathers to four weeks to enable them to spend more time with their babies.

Isn’t there more than a slight contradiction between that and subsidies for child care, paid for by us, to enable parents to leave their children while they work?

P.S. Lindsay Mitchell has a better idea.

Feds’ election wish-list pt 2


Federated Farmers’ election manifesto is 42 pages long.

I looked at the first 16 pages a couple of posts back, and continue from page 17:

* Employment legislation particularly the Employment Relations Act and Holiday Act, to be reviewed with a view to reducing compliance costs and encouraging labour market flexibility and productivity.

* The minimum wage retained at its current level (ie adjusted only for inflation).

* Paid parental leave to remain unchanged.

I agree with the first two points, but have philosophical difficulties with PPL because I don’t believe having a baby by itself is sufficient reason to require tax payer assistance. Giving money to a couple earning six-figure salaries when so many people are in desperate need of help shows the government has its priorities wrong.

* A robust efficient regulatory regime that provides assurances to consumers, both in New Zealand and overseas, of food safety.

* A continuation of voluntary country of origin food labelling.

Our reputation for producers of safe food must be maintained.

A growing number of consumers, and I’m one of them, want country of origin labelling  (COOL) where practical but I think that should be driven by consumers. If we opt for COOL food the people who sell it will soon get the message but that doesn’t need government intervention.

*  Acceptance of the principle and application of gene technology in agriculture, providing appropriate controls exist.
* Support of the regulatory frameworks established to scientifically assess and manage any risks to the health and safety of people and the environment from the application of gene technology.

* Recognition by the state that gene technology can provide benefits to New Zealand producers.

* Endorsement of individual farmers’ right to determine what technologies are used in their farming systems.

* Enshrining consumers’ right to information relating to the products they are purchasing by way of active risk communication by regulatory bodies and the supply of information to underpin consumer confidence.

* Recognition gene technology involves significant issues of intellectual property and the need to ensure this property is protected globally.

Gene technology is an area where emotion often beats science. This policy rightly recognises the need for regulation, safeguards and communication.

* Recognition of the property rights of affected land owners and lease holders.

* Continuation of the Tenure Review process with objective evaluations of Significant Inherent Values (SIVs).

* More recognition given to the use of protective mechanisms for SIVs as provided for in the Crown Pastoral Land Act 1998 (CPLA).

* Where large areas of land have both productive and environmental values, greater use of ‘sustainable management covenants’ under freehold titles as provided for in the CPLA.

* Amenity values be excluded from pastoral lease rent reviews.

They’ve got my vote on all of these points which address areas where Labour has caused hassles and heartache.

* Recognition that farming is a skilled occupation by Immigration New Zealand.

* Increased flexibility in immigration policies.

* Inclusion of more farming categories on the occupational skills shortage list.

Immigration policy needs to acknowledge that overseas experience isn’t necessarily helpful here and that attitude and work ethics are often more important than relevant experience.

* Review of the Local Government Act 2002 and local government funding to define council core functions.

* Councils to be given the flexibility to decide representation arrangements.

* More consistency in the process of setting user charges (eg dog registration).

* Any changes to dog control laws not to impose unreasonable impositions and costs on responsible owners of farm working dogs.

Yes again to all of these points.

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